Facebook fanpages dedicated to support leaders from the People's Action Party and to mud sling at opposition parties and civil activists, posted a series of Facebook posts on Tuesday late afternoon to attack comments made by Mr Pritam Singh, Member of Parliament of Aljunied GRC during the Budget debate in Parliament.
"Fabrication about The PAP", a fanpage with 186 thousand likes, shared an image showing Mr Pritam with a quote, which is attributed to him.
The quote wrote, "To raise revenue, we should use smart nation technology to enforce against taxi drivers and hawkers who may have under-declared their income."
FLOP (Fabrication led by opposition parties), another fanpage created by PAP supporters posted another image to the same effect.
However, Mr Pritam's actual speech in Parliament about taxi drivers was not as what was quoted. In the context of raising Goods & Service Tax to increase revenue for the government, he noted that other sources of revenue are not being projected in the Budget announcement. With cashless transactions, tax revenue from self-employed individuals will likely see an increase.
He did not say that tax has to be collected from taxi drivers and hawkers who may have under-declared their income to increase revenue.
His full speech on the matter shown below.
25. As expected, the Budget drew much attention on the Government’s plan to raise GST from 7% to 9% sometime in the future. However, there was an inconsistency in the treatment of some additional taxes that will no doubt add to the Government’s coffers before that. For example, the Government was able to confirm that the imposition of the carbon tax would bring an additional $1b a year of revenue after implementation. However, no estimates were provided on the likely additional revenue that would be be added to the Government’s income with the inclusion of GST on imported services.
26. In addition, the journey to become a smart nation – another plank of this year’s budget – is likely to make Singapore more efficient in tax collection. There is also the question on the move to become a cashless society and the impact this will have on sectors which have traditionally been thought to under-declare their income such as the self-employed, hawkers and taxi drivers. This prospect will become less probable with the advent of more electronic transactions and in turn, is likely to have a positive impact on tax revenues. Furthermore, with borrowing backed by a Government guarantees proposed for large infrastructure projects, more spending for such projects can potentially be allocated elsewhere for recurrent spending.
Mr Pritam in a Facebook post on Tuesday further clarified, "The context of my remarks were in relation to the WP's stand not to support the proposed GST hike at this moment in time because of the lack of clarity surrounding projected expenditure when the Government raises GST in future, the relative lack of information on whether there is scope for the reserves to better support Singaporeans and the absence of any information on the Government's GST offset package for the low and middle income."
Deliberate online falsehoods
The Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam in his speech at Parliament, introducing the motion for a Select Committee to be formed to look at the cause, consequence and countermeasures of deliberate online falsehood, said:
Wide spreading of falsehoods can drown out the facts, can cause people to be disillusioned, can be manipulated to create rifts and damage social cohesion. So, the people who shout loudest and shout falsehoods are those who will get hurt.
Falsehoods, because they tend to be focused on playing to people's feelings and getting them to be angry by putting forward points which are completely fabricated.
A very senior officer in Sweden is reported by BBC to have said – and this was reported last week – disinformation as a tool, as a campaign, in the context of Sweden has had effect. It affects Sweden's "fundamental values: freedom of speech, democracy and individual rights".
Ultimately, if left unchecked, such deliberate spread of online falsehoods can undermine trust in the country, in the institutions, in democracy and affect social cohesion.
In the same Facebook post by Mr Pritam on Tuesday, he wrote, "There have been a few inaccurate posts from our kawans at Fabrications About The PAP, FLOP amongst others, about some remarks I allegedly said about taxi-drivers. Such posts even have me quoted - " This is one aspect of the fake news landscape. It is not the first, nor will it be the last time such fake news will be circulated to malign the reputation of the Workers' Party."
Falsehoods such as the post made by websites and fanpages such as FAP rarely if ever get mentioned in news even when opposition members highlight it in their social media posts. On the contrary, "falsehoods" that are highlighted by PAP MPs and Ministers are always reported by the news without any dispute to the claims.
A traditional class of tax dodgers
IRAS noted in 2016, that tax evasion is generally more common in businesses with substantial cash transactions, weak internal controls, and those with no, or poor, record keeping.
Back in 1978, then-Finance Minister Hon Sui Sen replied a question on whether are there any plans by the government to enlarge its tax-base to include those people who are self-employed and should be paying taxes.
In his reply, Mr Hon said that at least 56% of the self-employed persons who have taxable incomes are not paying tax. By comparison with persons in the labour force who are employees and taxable, only 1,000 or 0.4%, escaped the tax net.
He commented, "Therefore, the self-employed persons have not, as a class, been shouldering their fair share of the tax burden."
Mr Hon further noted, "Several measures have been taken to check tax evasion by the self-employed. Firstly, the Anti-Evasion Unit in the Inland Revenue Department has been paying increasing attention to the problem and stepped up its efforts particularly against evasion by self-employed persons. Secondly, income tax assessment forms were sent to identifiable self-employed persons, such as hawkers and taxi drivers. Thirdly, an exercise matching car-owners with taxpayers was carried out."
Sebastian Lim, a self-professed former tax collector commented on Facebook, "I was a tax officer with the comptroller of income tax from 1979 to 1982. Yes Government has already started taxing the hawkers Since 1979. Those who had under declared their income had been imposed with a fine around 3 times the tax under declared plus additional income tax raised for the relevant year of assessment. Some cases were even been transferred and been pursued by anti-tax evasion section"
It is uncertain what is the situation today for the tax collection for self-employed.